N'DJAMENA CHAD — RELATIONS between Chad and Libya have steadily improved under the government of Idriss Deby, opening the door for an influx of finance from the north and radical Islamic ideas from Sudan.
This has created a potentially divisive situation for the Deby government.
One the one hand, Libya is determined to wield influence in its southern neighbor. One the other, France, the former colonial power, retains a military and economic presence here in direct response to a preceived Libyan threat.
"Because of improved relations between Libya and Chad, there's no reason for the French to stay," Libya's ambassador in Chad, Gheith Saif-Annaser, said in an interview. "It's not easy to accept a foreign presence in any neighboring country."
Libya, which has allied itself with numerous factions in Chad since the late 1970s and wielded direct influence there until former dictator Hissein Habre came to power in 1982, is now increasing its influence on all levels. The commercial Chad-Libyan Bank, which was closed in 1982, is expected to reopen in August with $2.4 million of Libyan capital and $1.4 million of Chadian capital.
Over the past year, Libya has channeled funds to northern Chadian Muslims through the Tripoli-based Islamic Call Society, which gives assistance to poor Muslims. Libya has also provide farm equipment, anti-colera vacinations, and 1,200 metic tons of food during periods of shortage last year. More food aid is expected this year.
Meanwhile the Deby government is relying on $18.5 million per year from France to pay government salaries. France also maintains 750 troops and 10 fighter aircraft that it sent to Chad in 1986 to help then-President Habre repel Libyan territorial claims in the north. Senior French sources say the Libyan factor is the only reason for France's continuing military presence.
(Libya first annexed the "Aozou strip" in 1973, and France has been bristling ever since. The issue is now before the International Court of Justice.)
Chadian government attitudes toward Libya reflect the growing divisions within the administration. President Deby received arms and money when he was training troops in Sudan's Darfur region before he launched his 1990 invasion.
It is now believed that known-Libyan terrorists have been entering the country on direct flights from Tripoli, which were suspended only when Chad agreed to abide by the recent United Nations sanctions against Libya.
The presence of terrorists, sources in N'Djamena say, has led some Chadian government officials to demand their expulsion while others called for closer ties with Libya.
To improve relations with Chad since Deby came to power, Libya has worked effectively through its close ally, Sudan, which has much stronger tribal ties with the Deby government than Libya itself.
The Chadian Army's commanding general, Mohamat Aly Abdallah, is a member of the Sudanese Zaghawa tribe, which straddles the border with Chad.
As a result, Chadians have been exposed to the strict Islamic teaching now prevailing in Sudan. Representatives of Sudan's National Islamic Front leader, Hassan el-Turabi, whose views on Islam led to the introduction of Muslim sharia law in Sudan, visited Chad this year.
There is now growing pressure from Zaghawa tribesmen to make Arabic Chad's official language. This would discriminate against non-Muslims, most of whom are from the south where French and Sara are spoken.
Chad's most senior Islamic leader, Imam Hassan Hissein, who studied in Sudan and returned to Chad within days of Deby's taking power, believes religious conflicts can be avoided in Chad. But he is uncertain as to whether sharia, or strict Islamic law, could be instituted.
"If one applied sharia here, it would be the will of God, not of another country. There's a difference between Chad and Sudan. Sudanese Islam is more sophisticated. Sudan is a majority Arab country. Here Arabs are not in the majority," Mr. Hissein says. But he does view the role of Islam as both religous and political.
"There's no difference between Islam and the political life," he says. "It seems that the West wants to create a new imperialism. We have not arrived at a point where non-Muslims respect Muslims. There's no respect for Islam anywhere. This is because of the new Western colonialism, so there must be unity among Muslims throughout the world."
Moderate Chadians view the increasing influence of Libya, Sudan, and radical Islamic integristes wishing to see Islamic law introduced as the result of the Deby government's weaknesses.
"The integristes like Turabi's followers, have converged on Chad mainly because of the political turmoil. Now we are seeing women in chadur and people filling the streets to listen to the Imams speaking. This is all new," says Gali Gatta N'Gothe, leader of the as-yet unregistered Union of Democratic Forces-Republican Party.
"The presence of Sudanese religious people will cause a split within Chad's Islamic communities between moderate and radical sects," he says.